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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Curriculum Gap or Achievement Gap?

By Arlene Baez-Scates

 Special to CSMS MagazineRecently, there has been a surge in the number of immigrants that are entering the United States of America.  As immigrants enter the country, so do their children. Our educational system has been affected by this growing trend, and our achievement gap seems to not decrease.  Our schools have had to offer more services to accommodate these students’ needs.  I believe that due to the constant change and growth of minorities in our country, our achievement gap will take longer to decrease, unless we change the way we teach in our schools.  The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) collects data related to education in the United States.  Here, I use their most recent report on Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Minorities (2007) to support my point.            I strongly believe that students’ socio-economic status affects their ability to achieve academically.  Parents, who are not educated, are not going to have the knowledge needed to motivate their children in order to reach higher standards.  There are many districts out there that declare they are closing the achievement gap.  In reality they are lowering the definitions of proficiency so that the achievement of this low standard may look like they are truly achieving the higher standard (Rothstein, 2007).  In turn, these districts are then complying with No Child Left Behind (NCLB) regulations.  Several studies and specifically the Reading and Math Scale Scores presented by the NAEP in 2007 show a consistency in the achievement gap.  Although we see growth in each minority group, the gap between groups has not significantly decreased from 1975 to 2004 in reading or math. (Due to some technical difficulties, we are unable to display the chart. We deeply sorry)            When I look at the data provided (NCES 2007), I see that schools are trying to gear their attention toward minority groups. However, White students continue to maintain the same scores showing zero or minimal growth and Black and Hispanic students less than 10% growth from 1975 to 2004.             The NCLB Act was created to close the achievement gap through high stakes testing and differentiated instruction. Students do not need more testing; what they need is to create relationships with their teachers and school personnel.  Are we going to test our students to death until the achievement gap closes?  Education Digest (2003) reported from a research conducted in Chicago with 40,000 students that 38% of the students across all racial groups said they did not feel close to any of their teachers.  These students were from 15 suburban schools, which had more resources for their students than other districts. However they had been unable to decrease the achievement gap.  This proves that good communication amongst teachers and students is the key to student achievement.  Schools need to set aside the drill and practice and teaching to the test strategies and focus more on the classroom, student needs, and culture.  Lewis (2005) has recommended three interventions that may help foster academic talent among minorities. 

  1. High quality teaching and instruction:  use the knowledge the learner brings to the classroom and transfer it to the context.
  2. Provide a supportive environment:  build relationships based on trust. 
  3. Create a community environment:  family values, institutional resources, and adult mentoring.

             With this model, it is evident that teaching rotates around the needs of the student.  The curriculum is followed, but at the same time relationships are being created and in turn higher achievements from the students will be met.  Lewis (2005) also states that some changes should be made to NCLB, where more frequent assessments are conducted to measure student learning behavior and outcomes.  She believes that as learning behavior changes, students will begin to accomplish higher levels of achievement.            It is inevitable that our school system must change if we truly intend to close the achievement gap among White and Asian students and Black and Hispanic students—Hispanics being the larger of the two groups.  Our educational system was created many years ago when only the Middle Class or higher had the money to send their children to school and provide all materials and books.  Since then, our country has changed and so have the children that walk into our classrooms (Jones, 2007).  We now are faced with students that have disabilities and students from other countries who do not speak English.  How do we intend to help these students achieve the expected proficiency levels if they do not even understand our culture or our language?             Jones (2007) believes that student culture should be incorporated into our standards-based instructional program.  She says that by making such a change, teaching and learning will improve.  Howard (2007) states that as our schools become more and more diverse. We must grow and learn with the students that make up this diverse population, especially that of minorities.  Both authors have a similar five-step solution for the creation of a culturally diverse curriculum.             Their number one focus and the first point both Jones (2007) and Howard (2007) state is communication and trust.  Through communication and trust, teachers, students and parents will build a healthy and strong relationship.  With this relationship, students will feel more at ease when in the classroom, thus changing their learning behavior.  The very last step or phase to creating a culturally diverse curriculum is instruction itself and having the school community buy into the idea.  Educators will have to humble themselves (Jones, 2007) and realize that no one is an expert; we all are learning from the students in the classroom.  Once the entire school community is engaged and is pursuing the same result, the students will then become successful, and the achievement gap will began to decrease rapidly.            Finally, it is still left up to the teachers to make a difference and try to close the achievement gap.  McKinley (2006) like Jones and Howard found some strategies that have helped teachers close the gap between White, Black, and Hispanic students.  The first method is cultural understanding.  It is important to build strong, positive relationships with students.  Professional development based on the impact of race in the school climate and literacy strategies can help teachers be more culturally competent.  Cooperative group instruction and classroom management is another strategy mentioned by Mc Kinley (2006).  Giving students the opportunity to work with each other and manage their classroom gives them a sense of belonging and responsibility.  Although a teacher may be demanding in the classroom, he or she must build a healthy relationship with his or her students outside the classroom as well. 

References

 Holland, H., Rothstein, R., & Haycock, K. (2007).  Can educators close the achievementgap? National staff development council, 28 (1), 54-62.  Retrieved February 14, 2007, from  Wilson web.    Howard, G.R. (2007).  As diversity grows, so must we.  Educational leadership, 64(6),16-22.  Retrieved February 3, 2007, from Wilson web.    KewalRamani, A., Gilbertson, L., Fox, M., and Provasnik, S. (2007).  Status and trends inthe education of racial and ethnic minorities (NCES 2007-039).  National center    for education statistics, institute of education sciences, US.  Department of  education.  Washington, DC.    Lewis, A.C. (2005).  Minority learning. Education digest, 71(3), 68-69.  RetrievedFebruary 3, 2008, from Wilson web.    McKinley, J. (2006).  Winning: Methods of teachers who close the gap between blackand white students.  National staff development council, 27 (4), 43-47.  Retrieved February 14, 2007, from Wilson web.    (2003). Minority skills gap.  Education digest, 68(6), 69-70. Retrieved February 3, 2008,   from Wilson web.Also see Role of alternative languages in our societyTips for teachers who teach ESOL students of Cuban originNote: Arlene Baez-Scates is a Ph.D. candidate at Nova Southeastern University (NSU). She wrote this piece exclusively for CSMS Magazine. She lives and works in Jacksonville, Florida.

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